Corning’s Principal Research Scientist Irene Peterson knew she had the opportunity to make a difference and had one of the most brilliant and transcending materials at her disposal: glass.

Bridging the art and science of glass with academia, Irene, along with the Glass and Optical Materials Division Executive Committee (GOMD), talented graduate student volunteers, and Howard Cohen from the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass hosted an educational event which included a scientific glassblowing demonstration and career panel for high school students in the city of Baltimore. 

The event included around 90 students and six teachers from Baltimore Design School, Baltimore City College, and Western High School. “And all of them were completely transfixed by the wonderful glassblowing demonstration and energetic technical narration,” Irene explained. 

Captured by the beauty of glass, everybody involved felt the astounding atmosphere the event held; the goal of inspiring the students into a career in glass science became a reality. “I loved the science behind it, and I’m interested in glass making,” said Brianna B., a student at Western High School. “The glass art within the room was beautiful.”

“The participants were passionate about providing the students with the best experiences that they could,” said Howard, who serves as the Education co-chair for the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass. “Dr. Peterson, Dr. [Michelle] Korwin-Edson, and Dr. [Joe] Ryan and I were committed to making the event meaningful and effective for the students. We were all coordinated, and it was truly a wonderful display of the efforts of very gifted people coming together to create two special and meaningful programs for the community.”

“My favorite part of this event was meeting the students,” said Katelyn Kirchner, a second-year Ph.D. candidate and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow at Penn State University who served as a graduate volunteer at the event. “Their interest and engagement were contagious. Hearing questions like ‘What is glass?’ or ‘Why does this work?’ reminded me of the great mystery surrounding materials and glass science. Glass is truly beautiful and complex, and even if these kids do not go into a STEM field, I trust that exposure from events such as this one will inspire a greater appreciation for glass art and science.”

Irene also holds educational events in high regard. “I was the first person in my family to enter a STEM field, which made it a big leap of faith into the unknown for me at a time when it was considered a very odd career choice for a woman,” she said. “I think this event will help make a career in STEM look less mysterious and more accessible to these students.”

These events provide a draw to the broader community, too. Coming from a middle-class family, Howard attended the public schools in Baltimore where his father taught for 39 years. He eventually developed an interest in mathematics after being inspired by his Grade 10 geometry teacher, and, since then, his love of analytics and his commitment to uncover the truth have sustained and guided him in his actuarial and educational careers.

“Two inspirational teachers helped build a part of my foundation for the rest of my life,” he said. “Both of them made me feel valued, heard. On some level, either consciously or unconsciously, these students might feel the same thing -- like their thoughts and opinions matter. These are the types of positive experiences that should stick with these kids and will be brought back to their extended communities – giving us hope in the future through the passions of our children.”

The event embodies Corning’s leadership during the United Nations International Year of Glass, as countless experts from art, science, and academia are coming together to celebrate and witness the level of global excitement for glass science and art.

Corning continues to find ways to transform glass into life-changing applications, and the experiences created at this event showcase how the next generation can be involved in the future of global science and technology development. “These types of events are how I discovered materials science,” Katelyn said. “I still remember my excitement when I first learned how to combine my love of math, chemistry, and physics in an industry-relevant way. It is a feeling I have never forgotten, and I’m grateful knowing that children today are getting the opportunity to live through that same experience.”

Katelyn has interned at Corning for the past three summers as an Applied Processes for Manufacturing intern in 2018, a Materials Modeling intern in 2019, and this past summer as a Modeling, Software, and Analytics intern. “It is because of Corning that I discovered what to prioritize for my career and why I decided to go to graduate school.”

“We can help build a future in glass if we amplify the voices of those who are passionate about the material and can engage in important topics and conversations from an early age,” Irene said. “For many students, the connection between what happens in the classroom, the choices they make after graduation, and the careers they hope to join is very vague. I hope that the demonstrations made some of the subjects from class more relevant and tangible to them and inspired them to seek more knowledge.”

“No matter how much you plan, you can never predict where life will take you,” Katelyn said. “There will be rejections and failures that will make it difficult to continue pursuing one’s passions. For me, working with glass and volunteering for outreach events is where I’ve found fulfillment. I hope the students from this event continue to be exposed to a variety of career choices so they too can build a fulfilling career path.”